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Parking and the Third LA

May 30, 2017 • Los Angeles

parkingWriting in the LA Times this week, Ethan Elkind and Mott Smith cite the statistics that 14 percent of the land area of LA County is dedicated to parking, which is 40 percent more than the land covered by streets and freeways. Their solution to the looming crisis of the shortage of housing is to remove parking requirements from new developments. Critics argue that if there isn’t anywhere to park at a new development, the already scarce parking resources will just see more competition and more congestion. Good examples are the development on Hollywood Boulevard around the Vine Street Red Line station, and similar developments at Vermont and Wilshire, where the city relaxed the number of parking spaces required for the hotel, residential, and commercial complex because, theoretically, positioned over a metro line, fewer people would drive. In practice all the people who live in the new buildings still own cars, and at certain times of day the neighborhoods are gridlocked traffic nightmares where drivers circle endlessly in the quest for parking.

On KCET, architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne talked about the “third LA,” the idea that we’re past the car era (the second LA) and its limitations. These have traditionally been understood as urban sprawl and the blight of high-speed roads, but as Elkin and Smith rightly point out, car culture and parking requirements have an especially deleterious effect on low-income residents. Hawthorne’s future, in terms of urban planning, means greater density rather than more sprawl and more roads, along with more public transit. Voters may be on board with this, having soundly rejected a ballot measure this March, sponsored by NIMBY groups, that would have essentially frozen new development.

Perhaps abandoning parking requirements for new construction will make driving to some neighborhoods so difficult that people won’t even try and will ride transit instead. That doesn’t ring true to me; not many Angelenos will willingly stop driving unless there are really good alternative options. Rather than the stick, the carrot might work better—build more trains and build them faster.

Voters seem to support this idea as well, voting twice in the last decade to tax ourselves more to build more public transit infrastructure. The third LA may already be underway, as the Expo Line from downtown to Santa Monica has proven enormously popular. The Crenshaw Line will be completed in a couple of years, and the Purple Line extension from Koreatown to Beverly Hills and eventually to Westwood has been accelerated with the new voter-condoned tax revenue.

I’m down with the third LA, and look forward to a denser, more walkable city where we might finally live without suffering if we choose to abandon our cars.

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